Marion's New Job: A Case Study on Web Accessibility for Instructors

DO-IT Factsheet #1158
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/articles?1158

Background

The University of Nowhere Specific has a nationally recognized program in distance learning. It was one of the early adopters of this format of instruction and has developed an infrastructure to support it. It employs a large group of content experts who work part-time as distance learning instructors. Each instructor is paired with a technical support person who puts the content developed by the instructor into a standard distance learning format. The program maintains copyright of the material within the courses developed. When one instructor replaces another, the new instructor has the option to update the course content before teaching a course.

Problem

The instructor of a course on essay writing decided to discontinue teaching the course. An advertisement for the position was placed in the local newspaper. After reviewing the applications and conducting interviews, the top candidate was selected. Marion ranked far above the others in terms of her writing and teaching experiences and was appointed to the position. Although she was blind, her speech output technology provided her with access to all of the text on the screen. However, once she started to review the course in order to update it with revised content, it became clear that the course was not accessible to her for a number of reasons. For example, some of the content had been presented with graphics, and no text alternatives were provided. She was told that many of these images were not important to the content of the course, but there was no way for her to ascertain the importance of an image except by asking a sighted person for assistance.

Solution

Initially, Marion's supervisor suggested that a sighted staff member describe the graphical elements to Marion so she could make decisions regarding content. Marion did not find this solution acceptable. Since she had another job and a young child at home, she wanted to work on the course in the evenings and on weekends when her child was sleeping or playing with her husband or a friend. Marion pointed out that the course was inaccessible not just to her but also to all potential students who are blind and using speech output technology with their computer systems. She encouraged the program to begin creating an accessibility policy for itself and for other electronic resources used on campus, including development tools for web pages and distance learning curricula. Meanwhile, Marion offered to work with the technical support staff member assigned to her and give him instructions on how to make the elements of the existing course accessible. She updated the content after he completed his work.

Once the immediate problem was solved, Marion and her distance learning supervisor met with the distance learning program director to discuss the access issues encountered. He hired Marion as a consultant to help them develop an accessibility policy, standards, training, and support. They adopted the Section 508 standards [1] for accessible electronic and information technology that are used by the federal government and made training and support available to key staff. They also incorporated accessibility content into all standard electronic resource development courses on campus.

Conclusion

This case study demonstrates the following:

  1. It can be a time-consuming process to redesign a course that is not initially designed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. It is much easier to design accessible products from the beginning.
  2. Potential instructors, as well as students, may require the accessible features of a website or program.
  3. Development tools for distance learning courses, as well as the courses themselves, should be accessible to individuals with disabilities, in order to plan for developers as well as instructors and students who have disabilities.
  4. If campus programs do not have accessibility policies, standards, training, and support, now is the right time to begin developing them. Key stakeholders, including individuals with disabilities, should be included in the process.

References